The last two days of the Sheep Camp Stock Dog Trials and All Roads Lead to Hotchkiss were blessed with the finest Colorado spring weather imaginable. The well-tended Hotchkiss family field was green and crisp, the sky clear blue and the observers focused on the athleticism of the canine workers. Even novices in the audience were fascinated with the precise particulars of the scoring and the tuned efforts of the dogs and their handlers.
Handlers traveled from California, Utah, Montana, Texas, Wyoming, North Dakota and from far-flung corners of Colorado to take part in the 16th annual trials, as is the case every year.
Competition was lively as the handlers worked with their dogs to complete the course fulfilling all of the run prerequisites within the 10-minute time frame.
Jess Deegan, president of the Lions Club, which sponsors the yearly event, noted that watching the interactions of dogs, handlers and sheep provides a fascinating look at behavioral psychology in action. Watching the timed runs brought to mind how function informs aesthetics. The dogs are beautiful to watch as they show how they perform an essential role for sheep farmers.
As the program for the trials informs us, herding competitions date back to 1867, with interest picking up in the United States in the 1880s. While the trials are organized along competitive lines, the real root of the event lies in demonstrating the essential role of the stock dog in the sheep industry. The route that the dogs and handlers must adhere to in the competition mirrors the skills necessary to complete the routine work of sheepherders. The courses are "not intended as a succession of 'tricks' or gimmicky obstacles, but rather a practical demonstration of the skills the dog uses every day of his working life."
The ticket tender, officials and onlookers all noted that the attendance seemed to be the best yet. They commented upon the interest and size of the crowd.
The San Juan Weavers Guild had a constant line up of interested viewers, children and adults. Shearer Doug Hamilton and the food and craft booths provided added interest to the proceedings. The announcers, with a stream of commentary and pithy observations, offered context to the continuous action.
Richard Bailey, the founder of the event, was thrilled to be an observer this year as he presided over an event that has matured and allows Hotchkiss a place in the national course of sheepdog trials.
The overall top three scorers in each category are as follows:
Nursery Dogs: Dabo handled by Shauna Gourley; Cullum handled by Victoria Long; and June handled by Shauna Gourley.
Novice Dogs: Pearl handled by Charlotte Timmons; Mac handled by Ralph Clark; and Sara Jane handled by Ian Davis.
Pro Novice Dogs: Jake handled by Bridget Strang; Ace handled by Rita Morneault; and Lass handled by Scott Maxfield.
Open Dogs: Roadie handled by Lise Andersen; Jade handled by Shauna Gourley; and Max handled by Daniel Keeton.